COVID-19 FAQs: SARS-CoV-2 in animals

COVID-19 FAQs: SARS-CoV-2 in animals

On April 22, the CDC announced the first confirmed cases of SARS-CoV-2 infection in two pet cats in New York. These are the first pets in the U.S. to test positive for SARS-CoV-2.

  • What is SARS-CoV-2?
    • SARS-Cov-2 is a novel coronavirus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person. Human patients with COVID-19 have experienced mild to severe respiratory illness, including fever, cough and shortness of breath. While much is currently unknown about this organism, no evidence suggests that animals can spread COVID-19 to humans.
  • Can pets transmit coronavirus to people?
    • At this time, there is no information available to suggest that pets might infect people with coronavirus.  
  • Can people transmit coronavirus to pets?
    • We are still learning about this virus, but it appears that it can spread from people to animals in some situations.
  • What was the situation with the cats in New York about?
    • The cats live in two separate areas of New York state. Both had mild respiratory illness and are expected to make a full recovery. In the New York cases, a veterinarian tested the first cat after it showed mild respiratory signs. No individuals in the household were confirmed to be ill with COVID-19. The virus may have been transmitted to this cat by mildly ill or asymptomatic household members or through contact with an infected person outside its home. Samples from the second cat were taken after it showed signs of respiratory illness. The owner of the cat tested positive for COVID-19 prior to the cat showing signs. Another cat in the household has shown no signs of illness. Both cats tested presumptive positive for SARS-CoV-2 at a private veterinary laboratory, which then reported the results to state and federal officials. The confirmatory testing was conducted at the National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL) and included collection of additional samples. NVSL serves as an international reference laboratory and provides expertise and guidance on diagnostic techniques, as well as confirmatory testing for foreign and emerging animal diseases.
  • What kinds of signs have SARS-CoV-2-positive pets had?
    • To date, globally, the only pets incidentally exposed to COVID-19 that have tested positive, with confirmation, for SARS-CoV-2 are two pet dogs and a pet cat in Hong Kong, and two pet cats in in the United States. The two pet cats in the United States both had signs of mild respiratory illness and are expected to make a full recovery. The pet cat in Hong Kong did not exhibit clinical signs of disease. Another pet cat in Belgium tested positive, but details around that case are less clear. The dogs and cats in Hong Kong were each in the care of and had close contact with a person who had been confirmed to have COVID-19. In the case of the cat in Belgium, other diseases and conditions that could have caused those same signs of illness were not ruled out and there are also questions about how samples demonstrating the presence of SARS-CoV-2 were collected and evaluated. That cat recovered.
  • What do I do if I suspect a patient might have SARS-CoV-2?
    • Testing animals for SARS-CoV-2 is not generally recommended and should only be considered under limited circumstances.  Veterinarians are strongly encouraged to rule out other, more common causes of illness before considering SARS-CoV-2 testing in animals. Veterinarians who are interested in requesting  SARS-CoV-2 diagnostic testing in Colorado should contact CDPHE at 303.692.2700.  SARS-CoV-2 testing for animals must be submitted by a licensed veterinarian who is responsible for the animal’s care.
  • How are decisions being made on whether to approve testing?
    • The decision on whether to approve testing will be made collaboratively between the State Veterinarian, the State Public Health Veterinarian, and the USDA Area Veterinarian in Charge in conjunction with the National Veterinary Services Laboratory. Animal testing for SARS-CoV-2 will only be approved if all officials agree it is necessary to protect the health of vulnerable human or animal populations.  Please see the CDC Criteria to Guide Evaluation and Laboratory Testing for SARS-CoV-2 in Animals. Testing animals for SARS-CoV-2 is not generally recommended and should only be considered under limited circumstances, for the following reasons:
      • The COVID-19 pandemic is being spread by person-to-person transmission. While limited evidence indicates that domestic animals can be infected, currently there is no evidence that shows domestic animals can spread SARS-CoV-2 to humans. A positive test in a domestic animal therefore has limited public health significance.
      • Since no specific treatment exists for SARS-CoV-2 in animals, testing an animal would generally not change its treatment.
  • Where will the testing be completed?
    • SARS-CoV-2 is considered a foreign animal disease (FAD) and is reportable to the Colorado State Veterinarian’s Office and World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).  Testing for suspected SARS-CoV-2 should be submitted to a laboratory within the National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN).  In Colorado, CSU Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in Fort Collins is the NAHLN laboratory approved to run SARS-CoV-2 testing.  Any positive samples reported from the testing laboratory will be confirmed through additional testing by USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratory (NVSL). Please see the USDA FAQ on Animal Testing for SARS-CoV-2 for information on sample collection, handling, and submission.
  • Who will pay for SARS-CoV-2 testing?
    • The animal’s owner will incur the financial costs associated with specimen collection, shipping, and testing.
  • My client has been diagnosed with a confirmed case of COVID-19. What should I tell him/her to do if the pet does not qualify for testing? 
    • People sick with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus. When possible, another member of the household should care for the pet. The infected person should avoid contact with the pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food. If an infected person must care for the pet while sick, he/she should wash their hands before and after interacting with animals.
  • Should pets be removed from homes of people who have COVID-19?
    • No. There is no reason to remove pets from homes where COVID-19 has been identified in members of the household, unless there is risk that the pet itself is not able to be cared for appropriately. In this emergency, pets and people each need the support of the other and veterinarians are there to support the good health of both.


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